9 Home Remedies for ADHD That Are Worth a Try
Try these at-home remedies before resorting to medication.
Difficulty concentrating? Sitting still or controlling impulsive behaviours?
Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD) affects 11 percent of school-age children, and symptoms often continue into adulthood, according to the organization Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). Untreated—or undertreated—ADHD can cause problems with school, work, and relationships. Medication can be very effective at reining in ADHD symptoms, but these drugs do confer their fair share of side effects namely sleeplessness and loss of appetite. The decision to start ADHD medication is not an easy one for parents as kids must take these drugs for the long haul. As a result, many people are searching for home remedies for ADHD that really work—and these have some evidence to back them up.
Avoiding artificial food colouring
A widely quoted study in the Lancet led certain European countries to ban some of these ingredients. In the study, children who consumed a drink containing artificial colours and preservatives exerted symptoms of hyperactivity. The US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Advisory Committee, however, determined that the studies to date do not prove there’s a link between food colouring and ADHD or warrant a ban. “There is accumulating evidence that artificial colours can have a small, but significant detrimental effect on behaviour in children—and possibly adults—with ADHD, ” says Eugene Arnold, MD, professor emeritus at the Center for Psychiatry and Behavioral Health of the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus and a CHADD spokesperson. “They are not the main cause of ADHD, but there are some individuals in which food dyes may be an important one.” His advice? Avoid them. “They don’t have any nutritional or health benefits and are only used to make foods more attractive.” Read the labels and choose products without artificial colours and dyes and see if this is one of the home remedies for ADHD that works for you.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in high supply in certain types of fish may help put the brakes on inflammation. Dr. Arnold points out they’re good for your heart and there is compelling evidence that omega-3s are also good for the brain—potentially one of the home remedies for ADHD. “The brain is made up of 60 percent fat and fat insulates the neurons to help the brain run more smoothly,” he says. “Inflammation is involved in many brain disorders and the anti-inflammatory effects of omega-3w may also help.” Research in Neuropsychopharmacology found that children with ADHD had low levels of omega-3 in their blood; when the kids got omega-3 supplements, their ADHD symptoms (including hyperactivity, inattention, impulsivity, and cognitive performances) improved. The benefits aren’t immediate, says Dr. Arnold: “It can take three months to build up your levels.”Omega 3’s can’t be manufactured in the body, which means we can only get them through diet—namely fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, and trout, or supplements.
Try behavioural therapy
Behavioural therapy can help mitigate ADHD symptoms, especially when combined with medication. You can create structure for the time spent at home by developing routines and schedules that you refer to regularly. Parents can help by praising a child for what they do well instead of criticizing their behaviours. The National Institute of Mental Health’s Multimodal Treatment Study of Children with ADHD showed that medication therapy alone or medication with behavioural therapy resulted in the greatest improvement in a child’s ADHD symptoms when compared with treatment by a local doctor, even if this care included medication. The combination worked best in improving anger management and emotional control, benefiting interactions with parents and school, the JAMA Psychiatry study revealed. “The combination treatment provides the extra benefit of addressing associated symptoms of ADHD and improving level of functioning in ADHD patients, and reducing the dose required for drug treatment which in turn, could reduce drug-related side effects,” says Ike De La Peña, PhD, assistant professor of Pharmaceutical and Administrative Sciences at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California.
Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals that we need in smaller supply than other nutrients, and there is some evidence that kids with ADHD may have an imbalance of micronutrients. When researchers gave children with ADHD a micronutrient supplement containing 13 vitamins, 17 minerals, and four amino acids, the kids showed marked improvements in attention symptoms and general functioning compared with those who took a dummy pill or placebo; however, the supplement didn’t seem to help with hyperactivity or impulse control. The results appear Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. “If kids don’t eat a balanced diet, a multivitamin with a whole spectrum of nutrients is a good idea,” Dr. Arnold says. (Check out this guide to healthy eating for kids.)
No screens before bedtime
Sleep is important for healthy brain function, and one of the best ways to encourage your kids to get better sleep is to restrict their use of phones, computers, and other blue-light emitting devices for two hours before bed, advises Dr. Arnold. Helping kids get better sleep can be one of the simplest home remedies for ADHD. “Use of these devices prevents the onset of melatonin, a hormone which the brain needs to go to sleep.” (FYI: These things can happen to your body if you take melatonin.)
Exercise increases feel-good chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin and this can have the same effect on the brain as the stimulant methylphenidate—a drug that doctors commonly prescribe to treat ADHD, Dr. Arnold says. A review of 30 studies looking at how exercise affects ADHD functions in kids gives it the thumbs up. Exercise—especially moderate to strenuous aerobic such as running—improves cognitive, behavioural and physical symptoms of ADHD, according to findings published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine. “Approaches like yoga or tai chi that combine movement with meditative mental states may be a good option, says John Kruse, MD, PhD, a San Francisco-based neuroscientist and psychiatrist.
Spending time outdoors
Nature can be medicine for your brain. Kids who play outdoors in areas with lots of green tend to have milder ADHD symptoms than those who play indoors or in more urban areas, according to a study in the journal Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being. “Many individuals experience a direct soothing and restorative experience being in nature, and many of my ADHD patients have reported being more alert and enhanced concentration after time spent in green spaces, ” says Dr. Kruse.
Some doctors recommend melatonin as a supplement to prevent jet lag among weary travellers; there is some research that suggests it can help treat insomnia in children with ADHD, according to a study in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. “There may be a role in some children with ADHD, but further study is needed,” Dr. Arnold says.
Trying caffeine and L-theanine
It’s still early to say for sure, but research suggests that there is something about the combination of L-theanine and caffeine that may improve ADHD symptoms, says Chanaka N. Kahathuduwa, PhD, assistant professor at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, Texas. A small study showed improved attention and cognitive performance and decreased impulsivity among kids with ADHD who took the combo. That said, impulsivity increased when either substance was administered alone, suggesting there is something synergistic taking place. “The doses we used—2.5 mg per kilogram of body weight for L-theanine and 2 mg/kg —of caffeine are low and considered safe for children,” says Kahathuduwa. There were no side effects seen in this small trial. Exactly how this combination reduces ADHD symptoms is not clear, but researchers suspect that it activates the brain’s default mode network, which may be weakened in ADHD. The study found that the kids’ attention was sharper when they got the combination. The next step, he says, is a large-scale clinical trial. “We only have pilot data, but there is no harm in asking your doctor about caffeine and L-theanine.”
Medically reviewed by Oscar H. Cingolani, MD.
Next, learn why ADHD is a real concern for Canadian women.